Childhood Fears: Types, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

Childhood Fears and Phobia

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Prakash (Psychologist/Psychotherapist)
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Children tend to get scared easily, and their fears keep changing over time. Being afraid of something is a normal reaction in children since it also teaches them to keep themselves safe. However, there is quite a difference between what a child experiences as fear and when a child has a phobia.

Common Childhood Fears

Here are some of the childhood fears by age that children experience.

Fears of Babies and Toddlers

  • Sudden loud sounds or extreme movements can cause the baby to be afraid.
  • A large object suddenly looming into their view could scare them.
  • Any strangers that attempt to converse with them could cause them to be afraid.
  • Being separated from parents or changes in their room or surroundings could make them feel in an unknown environment, making them scared.

Fears of Preschoolers

  • Nearly all fear in kids begins from being afraid of the dark. Some adults tend to get scared of the dark as well.
  • Any noises that occur at night could get them scared.
  • Scary masks or weird sounds of monsters and ghosts could cause kids at this age to be afraid.
  • Most kids like dogs but some of them could get afraid of an overexcited dog.

Fears in Children During School Years

  • This is where the child starts getting scared of large insects or reptiles like spiders and snakes.
  • A thunderstorm or earthquake can result in them getting extremely scared.
  • Being alone at home, especially overnight, could make the child quite afraid.
  • When it comes to school, scoldings from the teacher, failing a test, or getting rejected by their childhood crush all manifest within children as fear.
  • Scary TV shows or news incidents of extreme danger can make them afraid.
  • Seeing injuries or illnesses, doctors and injections, are the usual ones most children are afraid of.

How to Remove Fear from Your Child’s Mind

How to Remove Fear from Your Child's Mind

You can help your kids overcome their fears with the following tips:

For Babies and Toddlers

  • Parental presence and warmth can instantly make your baby feel safe from any strange situation.
  • Establishing a routine can make them understand what actions to expect and when.
  • In early months, it is important to limit the number of people taking care of the baby so that he has a chance to find a safe place for himself.

For Preschoolers

  • Most kids at this age are highly imaginative. Hence, even the smallest fear can become a large one fuelled by their own imaginations.
  • If your kid is afraid of a particular place, go to that place with them so that they can see it properly without being afraid.
  • In case of being afraid of the dark, ask your child to walk towards the other room while counting numbers loudly. You can also count along with him so that he knows he isn’t alone.
  • If he is afraid of any animal or an overactive dog, make sure the dog is tied down and play with it first. Once the dog is a little calm, you can then bring your child closer and let him play with it.

For Children in School Years

  • Talk to your child about his fears since he would be able to communicate them well.
  • Ask him what the worst he thinks that could happen is. Then let him know of a real-life incident which wasn’t as bad as he thinks it would be.
  • When it comes to natural disasters, let your child read books on the precautionary measures they need to take. This will make them feel prepared and not be caught off-guard.
  • Any other fears can be best overcome by supervised action. If they constantly keep feeling afraid, getting them relaxed or taking a nap can alleviate it to quite an extent.

What is a Phobia?

When fear gets out of hand, becomes excessive, unreasonable, and permanent, and even the slightest situation or possibility of a situation can manifest a feeling of extreme anxiety that is debilitating, this is termed as a phobia. Most of the time such fears stay for multiple months to over a year before becoming a phobia.

How Common is a Phobia among Children?

Many children are known to have one or the other type of a phobia. It is estimated that nearly 9-10 percent of people in the world suffer from a phobia of some sort.

What Causes a Phobia in Children?

Common causes of phobias in kids are:

1. Factors Related to Life Events

Any events that occur in a child’s life that have a major impact on him could result in manifesting as a phobia in him. These could be as normal as the beginning of a new grade in school or shifting to a new place, or as unfortunate as a family member’s death, extreme illness or parental divorce.

2. Factors Related to Family

In certain cases, phobia of certain aspects can be inherited from one of the parents by the kids. Even though it may not always be genetic, kids are extremely observant. On seeing any family member suffering from a phobia, they could be led to believe that they need to be afraid of it as well.

3. Factors Related to Biology

Neurotransmitters within the brain are responsible for communicating with each other, which also results in forming emotions and feelings. Two major entities here are serotonin and dopamine, which are responsible for making a human feel happy and at peace. If they go out of balance, your child can suddenly start feeling afraid of anything at all.

Common Types of Phobias in Children

Here are some of the common types of phobias:

1. Specific Phobia

In specific phobia, the child starts feeling afraid of an extremely specific entity, mostly without reason. This could be a particular place such as a closet, or a particular person such as their teacher, or a type of people like taxi drivers, and so on.

Signs and Symptoms

The child may attempt to avoid the entity of phobia or start anticipating that something bad is going to happen without reason. At times, when the object of fear is present, the actions of the child will be completely out of sync and disrupted.

2. Agoraphobia

This is the same fear of stepping outside your comfort zone but multiplied to gargantuan proportions. The child starts feeling afraid of the outside world and unknown people completely. Any place unknown to them or any stranger can cause them to be triggered and go into a state of panic, throw tantrums, or cry excessively.

Signs and Symptoms

Children will refuse to leave their homes under any condition or refuse to meet or talk to any stranger or guest in the house. If forced to do so, they may panic or scream out in refusal.

3. Social Phobia

Social anxiety disorder is another name for this. This is majorly termed as a fear of interacting with people in a crowd or even fear of children in certain cases. This can also lead to a phobia of going to school.

Signs and Symptoms

Children are filled with mortal fear when it comes to introducing themselves to other people or asking questions in a classroom, going on the stage, or even peeing in a public washroom with other people present. They will also go to extreme measures to avoid being in a situation, lying or even falsely falling ill to skip a particular event or so.

How Can Phobias Be Diagnosed in Kids?

Phobias are usually diagnosed by psychiatrists by undertaking a mental health evaluation of the child. Certain disorders might be apparent on the first visit, some others might take multiple visits and tests to be diagnosed.

How to Treat a Phobia in Your Child

Treatment of a phobia is highly dependent on the child’s age and the extremity of the fear. Most of the times, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can help them combat their phobia by themselves. In extreme cases where panic attacks get out of hand, psychiatrists may recommend some medicines that help your child calm down. Parental support is extremely necessary through this phase.

How Can You Prevent Your Child from Developing Phobia?

The spread and variety of fears and phobias can seem unnerving to parents. Childhood fears in psychology is a developing science, and understanding it can take quite some time. Staying vigilant, having open conversations with kids, and building strong bonds of trust are great ways in helping kids combat their fears. Steps can be taken to nip the fear in its bud before it has a chance to develop into a phobia. Proper parenting plays a vital role in making this happen.

Also Read: School Phobia in Kids

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